• University of Reading

Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City

Explore the architecture and history of Rome, walking around a 3D digital model of the ancient city, with this free online course.

64,935 enrolled on this course

A 3D digital model of the ancient city of Rome

Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City

64,935 enrolled on this course

  • 5 weeks

  • 3 hours per week

  • Digital certificate when eligible

  • Open level

Find out more about how to join this course

  • Duration

    5 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours
  • 100% online

    How it works
  • Unlimited subscription

    $189.99 for one yearLearn more

Explore ancient Rome through a unique, historically accurate 3D model.

Take a guided tour around ancient Rome with expert Professor Matthew Nicholls, using his detailed and award-winning 3D digital model of the city. Explore Rome’s architecture and how it was used - how did Romans worship their gods and meet their political masters? How was drinking water supplied to the city’s million inhabitants? Moving seamlessly between footage of contemporary Rome and the digital model (including interactive elements), you’ll explore these questions and much more.

Use this insight to inform your own encounters with the eternal city and the study of ancient history more generally.

class central badge This course has been ranked as one of the best online courses of all time by online course aggregator class central.
Download video: standard or HD

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Welcome to the city of Rome. This beautiful city has been inhabited by humans for three millennia. And on this course, we’re going to be looking at Rome at its pomp, at its height about 2,000 years ago, when the emperors here ruled a vast swathe of territory from Hadrian’s Wall to the Nile Delta.

Skip to 0 minutes and 25 seconds You might well think of Rome as a city of monuments, the Colosseum, the Fora, the arches, the columns, these grand statements of power and wealth, the busy arterial roads, all those roads leading to Rome and from Rome. But while we’re doing that, we’re going to be looking at it as a working city, a living city, trying to tease out the evidence for those non-grand monuments, the aqueducts, the sewers, the street fountains, the apartment blocks, the warehouses, all the stuff that sustained the life of the city, that made possible that lovely veneer of grand monuments on the top.

Skip to 0 minutes and 56 seconds We’re going to be looking at a huge, 3D digital model of the ancient city that I have built over the last few years at the University of Reading for teaching my students. And by flying around this model or walking through it, we can get a glimpse or a sense of how the city may have appeared all those years ago.


  • Week 1

    Location and infrastructure

    • Welcome to Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city

      Welcome! Meet Professor Matthew Nicholls, your lead educator, and learn about the topics you'll be covering over the next five weeks as you explore the old with the new in a 3D virtual tour of ancient Rome.

    • Part I: Building the ancient city

      Why was Rome’s location crucial in helping her become a dominant superpower from such humble beginnings? Explore a brief history of ancient Rome.

    • Encountering the evidence

      Each week you'll investigate the different sources of evidence Matthew used to try and get a full sense of the city to help build the digital model. Find out why a picture on a Roman coin can be worth more than a thousand words.

    • Part II: Walls, roads and building materials

      Rome's roads and walls functioned as the veins and arteries of her growing empire. What materials did the Romans use to build these structures, and allow remnants to remain standing today?

    • Part III: Aqueducts and sewers

      Aqueducts and sewers were an amazing feat of Roman engineering. They towered over and stretched across the city, supplying water to a million people. Explore for yourself by taking your very first steps into the digital model.

    • Review and reflect

      This week you looked at the importance of Rome’s location and the origins of her impressive infrastructure. Next week you'll explore political architecture within the ancient city and how it was used as a symbol of power.

  • Week 2

    Political architecture

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Welcome to Week 2. This week you'll head to the core of the Eternal City to look at the political and commercial life of the expanding empire. Let's start with a brief timeline of the kings and emperors, between 753 BC to 337 AD.

    • Part IV: The Forum

      The Forum started as an unpromising, malarial, swampy piece of land. So how did it become the centre of the Roman world? Take a virtual tour of the Forum, and see how the neighbouring imperial fora extended its space.

    • Part V: Monuments and the imperial fora

      Rome is littered with monuments including arches, obelisks and columns. But with little or no practical function, what was their purpose?

    • Texts in the city

      What can poetry tell us about ancient Rome? Watch Professor Matthew Nicholls and Dr Luke Houghton, an expert in Latin poetry, discuss the clues that have been left behind by ancient Roman poets.

    • Review and reflect

      This week you explored the heart of the Roman empire, and the monuments that celebrated the power and wealth of the emperors. Next week you'll adopt a more divine perspective and find out why Rome was known as the city of gods.

  • Week 3

    Religious architecture

    • Part VI: Roman religion and republican temples

      Rome was a city of gods. Religion permeated every aspect of public and private life, from small shrines to grand temples. But who were these dedicated to? Join Matthew to find out more in this tour around the Capitoline Temple.

    • Encountering the evidence: music and coins

      Rome’s hills were alive with the sound of music. These songs and tunes entertained but also played a central role in their worship of the gods. Listen to some audio samples and then test your knowledge about Roman gods.

    • Part VII: imperial temples

      Many Roman temples were traditional and conservative in their architectural style. What was so different about the Pantheon? Take a guided tour of this stunning monument to find out more.

    • Worshipping the gods

      The Romans were deeply superstitious and looked for signs from heaven. But what lengths did they go to to placate their gods? And why did religion play such a fundamental role in everyday life?

    • Review and reflect

      This week you looked at religious architecture in ancient Rome and took a guided tour with Matthew around some of the major sites of worship. Next week you'll investigate the buildings that enabled daily life in the city.

  • Week 4

    Life and death in ancient rome

    • Part VIII: Life

      Welcome to Week 4! There was a huge disparity between the emperors in their marble halls and the occupants of cheap, top-floor apartments. This week you'll look at life and death in the ancient city for ordinary people.

    • Encountering the evidence: the baker's tomb and Roman food

      In this activity you'll see what the tomb of a prosperous Roman baker can tell us about food supply in the ancient city. And why not try your hand at some historical recipes for a little taste of Roman life?

    • Part IX: Death

      Being remembered by the living was fundamentally important to the dead, and tombs were very significant for both the rich and the poor of ancient Rome. Reading Roman funerary inscriptions will let you discover more.

    • Review and reflect

      You looked at how the city supported its million or so inhabitants to ensure a steady flow of grain, and how the dead could speak to the living. Next week you'll move to the spectacle of the games: 'Bread and Circuses'.

  • Week 5

    Bread and circuses

    • Part X: Bread and Circuses

      Welcome to the final Week! With a growing city, teeming with people working and resting, what did the Romans do for play? Let's dive straight into the action and explore the architecture that housed the entertainments.

    • Part XI: Theatres

      Stage entertainment has a long history in Rome. Find out how the Theatre of Pompey set the scene for Roman theatre architecture and pulled out all the stops. And why not take to the stage for yourself in the Theatre of Marcellus?

    • Part XII: Baths

      Bathing was a daily ritual enjoyed by many Romans, from simple balneae to lavish imperial thermae. Take a tour with Matthew to see how the emperors competed to win the affection of the populace with their grand bathhouse designs.

    • Part XIII: Colosseum

      The Colosseum may be the grandest entertainment arena ever to be built. But there’s a dark side behind the grandeur of one of Rome's most iconic landmarks which isn’t for the faint-hearted - feeding the Romans' lust for blood.

    • Encountering the evidence: the Colosseum and entertainment venues at Rome

      The Colosseum was a magnificent venue devoted to the people's pleasure. It left a lasting imprint on the city's landscape, literary texts, and coins. Encounter the evidence one final time with Matthew and Luke to find out more.

    • Review and reflect

      Thank you for joining us on Rome: A virtual tour of the ancient city. Now you’ve reached the end of the course let’s reflect together and think about the next steps you may like to take.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and join a global classroom of learners. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore different categories of building within the city, and the functions they housed
  • Investigate a range of evidence including archaeological remains, coins, literary texts, and inscriptions to learn how we can understand and interpret the ancient past
  • Discuss the way the rulers of Rome used architecture to adorn the city and keep it functioning
  • Experience digital modelling as a way of presenting the ancient past, exploring models on screen and in videos and discussing what they can show us

Who is the course for?

This course is open to anyone with an interest in discovering more about ancient Rome. You might be: planning a visit to the Italian capital; an avid watcher of documentaries on Roman history; or considering studying archaeology, classics or history at university.

What do people say about this course?

"Diving in those marvellous virtual tours was something new for me and also very informative. Thank you very much."

"A very interesting, engaging course. Thank you, Matthew! I hope to find many of these sites when I am in Rome for the first time in October. As for the "eternal" question of which emporer had the biggest impact, my initial thought was Augustus and I'm even more sure of my answer having completed the course. He not only built many great structures but set the standard that others followed in building and growing this great city."

Who will you learn with?

Dr Matthew Nicholls is a Roman historian at the University of Reading, specialising in the 3D reconstruction of ancient spaces. He also directs the University's Open Online Course programme.

Who developed the course?

University of Reading

The University of Reading has a reputation for excellence in teaching, research and enterprise.

Ways to learn

Buy this course

Subscribe & save

Limited access

Choose the best way to learn for you!

$84/one-off payment


for one year

Automatically renews


Fulfill your current learning needDevelop skills to further your careerSample the course materials
Access to this courseticktick

Access expires 14 Mar 2023

Access to 1,000+ coursescrosstickcross
Learn at your own paceticktickcross
Discuss your learning in commentstickticktick
Certificate when you're eligiblePrinted and digitalDigital onlycross
Continue & Upgrade

Cancel for free anytime

Ways to learn

Choose the best way to learn for you!

Subscribe & save

$189.99 for one year

Automatically renews

Develop skills to further your career

  • Access to this course
  • Access to 1,000+ courses
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

Cancel for free anytime

Buy this course

$84/one-off payment

Fulfill your current learning need

  • Access to this course
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Printed and digital certificate when you’re eligible

Limited access


Sample the course materials

  • Access expires 14 Mar 2023

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Unlimited or buying a course (Upgrades)

Sale price available until 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Learner reviews

Learner reviews cannot be loaded due to your cookie settings. Please and refresh the page to view this content.

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join:

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #FLvirtualrome to talk about this course on social media.